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Drawing Notebook

By N. F. Karlins

Art made with colored pencils and crayons have been on my mind, ever since I saw "Body and Nature," an exhibition of works by two Chinese artists staged by Marlborough Chelsea as its participation in this year's Asia Week. The show presented landscapes in oil and crayon by Jeng Jundian along with the small in size yet massive in volume wood sculptures of Wang Keping.

Jeng presents an essentially hybrid art, pairing the atmospheric mountainsides of Chinese art with the colors, the flattened space and an interest in technical innovations common to the Impressionists through the moderns. This is not surprising considering that Jeng has studied both in his native Taiwan and Paris. He has not exhibited here before, nor anywhere else for the last five years, which he spent in perfecting this new series of paintings and drawings.

Whether using oil or crayon, Jeng's approach is similar. He builds up his landscapes from cross-hatching, varying the directions and density of the strokes and their blend of colors to shape his views of nature. The places he describes so beautifully are specified in the titles of his works, like Pin Gwang (2003) with it majestic mountains or Sao Mao Mountain (2003) with architecture perched within hills covered by trees. Both measure 41½ x 38½ inches, although other pieces range from 35 x 35 inches to around 59 x 59 inches.

Jeng occasionally interrupts the crosshatching with white opaque clouds in a few of the oils. These evaporate into clich for me. More successful is Hsinstan Menhu 2, an oil-on-linen work with a limited pallet of colors but a plentiful set of subtle tonal gradations that flicker across its surface. His evocation of light makes every inch of the canvas quietly, yet restlessly alive.

Jeng owes much to Cézanne, yet his sensitivity to tonal variation and his ability to create a mesh of grids to conjure up landscapes is all his own. It will be interesting to see what he does next.

The exhibition was on view at Marlborough Chelsea, 211 West 19th Street, Mar. 18-Apr. 17, 2004.




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